LONDON - The Russian government assured the IOC on Thursday it will not discriminate against homosexuals during the Sochi Olympics, while defending the law against gay "propaganda" that has provoked an international backlash.
The IOC received a letter from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak giving reassurances the host country will comply fully with the Olympic Charter's provision against discrimination of any kind.
"The Russian Federation guarantees the fulfilment of its obligations before the International Olympic Committee in its entirety," Kozak said.
However, Kozak did not back down on the issue of the new law, which penalizes anyone who distributes information aimed at persuading minors that "nontraditional" relationships are normal or attractive.
The law applies equally to everyone and "cannot be regarded as discrimination based on sexual orientation," Kozak said.
The letter still leaves open the question of what would happen to Olympic athletes or fans if they make statements or gestures that could be considered propaganda.
The law has provoked harsh international criticism ahead of the Feb. 7-23 Winter Olympics in the Russian resort of Sochi. Some activists have called for a boycott of the games, though President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have ruled that out.
Kozak's letter came after IOC President Jacques Rogge asked the Russians for further clarifications on the law and how it could impact on the Sochi Games.
"We have today received strong written reassurances from the Russian government that everyone will be welcome at the games in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation," Rogge said in a statement.
The letter was addressed to Jean Claude-Killy, the French IOC member who heads the co-ordination commission for the Sochi Games.
It's still not clear if an athlete or spectator could be prosecuted for wearing a badge or rainbow pin or waving a small flag in solidarity with gay rights. Political gestures of any kind are also prohibited by the IOC.
The issue attracted attention at the world athletics championships in Moscow last week when Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro painted her fingernails in the colours of the rainbow to support gay rights.
The gesture prompted Russian pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva to complain that Green Tregaro was disrespecting Russia.
In his letter, Kozak said the legislation does not impose any restrictions on sexual orientation, and stressed the Russian constitution prohibits discrimination against anyone based on sex, race or religion.
The law on gay propaganda, he said, centres on the "restriction of information that promotes non-traditional sexual relationships among children."
"These legislations apply equally to all persons, irrespective of their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, and cannot be regarded as discrimination based on sexual orientation," he said.
The letter added: "These requirements do not attract any limitations for participants and spectators of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi on their legal right of residence in the territory of the Russian Federation or participation in any events stipulated in the Games program that are contradictory to the Olympic Charter or universally recognized standards of international law on human rights."
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993 and Russian officials have been at pains to emphasize that the law does not penalize gay orientation or activity.
However, the law reflects widespread animosity toward homosexuals in Russian society and its vagueness troubles many. It appears possible that anyone wearing a rainbow flag on the street or writing about gay relationships on Facebook, for instance, could be accused of propagandizing.
History was made in October 2012 when active professional featherweight boxer <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/04/orlando-cruz-comes-out-gay_n_1939204.html">Orlando Cruz of Puerto Rico came out</a>. He said in a USA Today article, "I've been fighting for more than 24 years and as I continue my ascendant career, I want to be true to myself. I want to try to be the best role model I can be for kids who might look into boxing as a sport and a professional career." He continued, "I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man."
Jason Collins made history in April of 2013 by <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/29/jason-collins-comes-out-gay_n_3178401.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices" target="_blank">coming out</a>, making him the first openly-gay professional male athlete in a major sport. Collins is a free agent who has played for the Washington Wizards and the Boston Celtics. "I never set out to be the first," Collins told ABC's George Stephanopoulos <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/30/jason-collins-interview-good-morning-america_n_3183826.html?ir=Gay%20Voices&utm_hp_ref=gay-voices" target="_blank">during an interview</a> that first aired during "Good Morning America". "You're sort of waiting around for somebody else to, you know, raise their hand. I'm ready to raise my hand but, you know, you still look around like, 'OK, come on, guys.'"
Brittney Griner is the 2013 number one Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) draft pick and newly Phoenix Mercury player. Though Griner said she was never hiding, she <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/18/brittney-griner-wnba-comes-out_n_3108637.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices" target="_blank">openly discussed</a> her sexuality as a lesbian during an interview with Sports Illustrated in April 2013. The Baylor University basketball player signed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/25/brittney-griner-nike-deal-_n_3157164.html" target="_blank">an endorsement deal </a>with Nike shortly after coming out.
The 27-year-old U.S. Olympic soccer player spoke frankly about her sexuality in <a href="http://www.out.com/travel-nightlife/london/2012/07/02/fever-pitch" target="_hplink">an interview with <em>Out</em> magazine</a>, saying she is a lesbian and in a committed relationship with a woman. While her statement may seem bold, the 27-year-old Rapinoe told Out's Jerry Portwood that she'd just never been asked directly. "I think they were trying to be respectful and that it's my job to say, 'I'm gay,' she said. "Which I am. For the record: I am gay." Rapinoe, who's been dating her girlfriend -- identified in the magazine only as an Australian soccer player -- for three years, also took time to chat about homophobia in sports and, more specifically, female athletes' perspective on the subject. "I feel like sports in general are still homophobic, in the sense that not a lot of people are out," she said. Still, she added, "In female sports, if you're gay, most likely your team knows it pretty quickly. It's very open and widely supported. For males, it's not that way at all. It's sad."
Although his coming out wasn't ideal when news broke that he was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/28/kwame-harris-boyfriend-domestic-assault-charge_n_2570977.html">facing charges for assaulting a former boyfriend</a>, former San Francisco 49er Kwame Harris <a href="http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Kwame-Harris-Culliver-Is-Spreading-Hate-189113121.html">spoke out against fellow 49er, Chris Culliver</a>, who said he didn't believe gays had a place in the locker room, saying: "It’s surprising that in 2013 Chris Culliver would use his 15 minutes to spread vitriol and hate. I recognize that these are comments that he may come to regret and that he may come to see that gay people are not so different than straight people.”
In 2007, Amaechi -- who played at Penn State and spent five seasons in the NBA with Orlando --<a href="http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=2757105" target="_hplink"> identified himself as a gay man</a> in his book "Man in the Middle." Four years later, Amaechi <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/14/john-amaechi-kobe-bryant_n_849231.html" target="_hplink">criticized Kobe Bryant after the five-time NBA champion used a gay slur</a> during a game. "There's only one contemporary meaning for that," he said. "We have to take it as unacceptable as a white person screaming the N-word at a black person. I can tell you that I've been called a f--got fairly routinely, and yet people seem to hold off on calling me the N-word. We've got to mirror that progress."
Thomas's decision to <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/19/gay-groups-applaud-gareth-thomas" target="_hplink">confirm his sexuality</a> while still an active rugby player was praised by LGBT rights advocates as a brave move. Though others have since followed suit, Thomas hoped people who eventually consider his sexuality as irrelevant. "What I choose to do when I close the door at home has nothing to do with what I have achieved in rugby," he told <em>The Guardian</em>. "I'd love for it, in 10 years' time, not to even be an issue in sport, and for people to say: 'So what?'"
The Prague-born tennis pro, who came out as bisexual in 1981, is credited with having "expanded the dialogue on issues of gender and sexuality in sports,"<a href="http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016378.html" target="_hplink"> according to ESPN</a>. "Martina was the first legitimate superstar who literally came out while she was a superstar," Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation, said. "She exploded the barrier by putting it on the table. She basically said this part of my life doesn't have anything to do with me as a tennis player. Judge me for who I am."
The Olympic diver, who took home the gold medal in 2008 in the ten meter platform, revealed his sexuality in an <a href="http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/05/23/1211183107597.html" target="_hplink">exclusive interview</a> with <em>The Sydney Morning Herald</em>. Mitcham, then 20 years old, credited partner Lachlan with helping him battle depression and emotional burnout in the years before his Olympic triumph.
Glenn Burke became the first former professional baseball player to come out of the closet when he discussed his sexuality in 1982 in an Inside Sports magazine article and on "The Today Show" with Bryant Gumbel. The athlete was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1976 to play in the outfield. Out to his family and friends, Burke was soon traded to the Oakland A's and rumors about his sexuality began to swirl. His glass closet case wasn't entirely welcomed in the locker room, and he left the A's shortly after his arrival in Oakland. Burke retired from baseball at the age of 27. "Prejudice drove me out of baseball sooner than I should have," Burke said in an interview with the New York Times in 1994. After that, Burke, who became revered in the Castro, played in Gay Softball World Series and may have even invented the high five, passed away from AIDS in May 1995 at the age of 42. See the full story <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/09/lgbt-history-month-glenn-burke_n_1920775.html">here</a>.
<a href="http://www.oddee.com/item_98038.aspx">Balian Buschbaum</a> underwent sexual reassignment surgery in 2008 after retiring from pole vaulting. Buschbaum was Germany's second best female pole vaulter and <a href="http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/athletes/bu/yvonne-buschbaum-1.html">competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games</a>. After his operation, <a href="http://malecelebbio.com/2012/03/09/balian-buschbaum/">Buschbaum said</a>, "Courage is the road to freedom. I woke up in complete freedom today. The sky is wide open."
Known as much for his colorful fashion sense as his slick moves on the ice, Weir faced intense media scrutiny over his sexual orientation before<a href="http://www.afterelton.com/people/2011/01/johnny-weir-finally-really-out" target="_hplink"> finally coming out</a> in his recently published memoirs. "With people killing themselves and being scared into the closet, I hope that even just one person can gain strength from my story," Weir said at the time. "A lot of the gays got downright angry about my silence. But pressure is the last thing that would make me want to 'join' a community."
Billie Jean King
Unfortunately, the tennis pro's<a href="http://lesbianlife.about.com/od/lesbiansinsports/p/BillieJeanKing.htm" target="_hplink"> 1981 outing</a> was not her choice; she was forced out when her former female lover sued her for palimony and nearly lost all of her commercial endorsements as a result. But her career was far from over, and in 2000, she became the first open lesbian ever to coach an Olympic team.
Heather Cassils is a Canadian performance artist, body builder and personal trainer now living in Los Angeles. Unlike other artists working in more traditional mediums, Cassils uses her body to investigate issues related to gender, mass consumption and the industrial production of images, among others. Her conceptual pieces, which have been performed in museums and galleries around the world, also highlight transgender or "genderqueer" themes, like in "Cuts: A Traditional Sculpture," for which she spent 23 weeks documenting herself building her body to its maximum capacity by following a strict weightlifting regime, consuming the caloric intake of a 190-male athlete, and taking mild steroids. She also starred in Lady Gaga's "Telephone" video. Earlier this year Cassils <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/heather-cassils-creates-v_n_1660244.html">told The Huffington Post</a>: <blockquote>"If you're not going to exist as your biologically-assigned gender or you're not operating [as a transgender person] on one end of the gender spectrum, then you end up in that in between space, inviting that scrutiny... I'm trying to push or create a kind of visual language for my subjectivity -- trying to create visual options. You can tap into people's psyches and have them imagine things that they don't yet have words for. I think that's very powerful. I'm trying to create a slippery language, one -- much like my body -- that doesn't fit."</blockquote>
In 1995, the Olympic diving hero (who <a href="http://www.outsports.com/local/2006/0417louganis.htm" target="_hplink">became the first man</a> in 56 years to win two gold medals in diving when he captured the platform and the springboard events in Los Angeles 11 years earlier) shocked fans when he decided<a href="http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Greg-Louganis-Comes-Out-on-The-Oprah-Show-Video" target="_hplink"> to come out</a> as both gay and HIV-positive on <em>The Oprah Winfrey Show</em>. "People who were close to me -- family and friends -- they knew about my sexuality," he said in 2006. "I just did not discuss my personal life, my sexuality with the media. That was my policy."
Tennis Player Renee Richards
Richards is an ophthalmologist, author, and former professional tennis player. After transitioning in 1975, she <a href="http://www.tennispanorama.com/archives/9472" target="_hplink">was banned from playing in the U.S. Open</a> by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) because only biological women were allowed to participate in the tournament. Richards fought the ban and a 1977 New York Supreme Court decision ruled in her favor. She continued to play until 1981. In the fall 2011, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/27/renee-richards-film_n_854578.html" target="_hplink">a documentary about Richards's life</a>, "Renée," was released.
Three-time MVP Sheryl Swoopes was the first player to be signed to the WNBA when it was created. Not only was she a star on the court she was one of the first high profile athletes to publicly come out.
The Australian hockey champ, who retired this year, came out earlier this week in an emotional YouTube video, <em>The Sydney Morning Herald</em> <a href="http://www.smh.com.au/national/playing-it-straight-20111022-1mdj3.html" target="_hplink">is reporting</a>. "I regret immensely that I wasn't strong enough as a leader, that I didn't step up when I was playing and share this about myself,'' he is quoted as saying in the video.
Chris Tina Bruce
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/24/lgbt-history-month-icon-chris-tina-bruce_n_1932941.html">Chris Tina Bruce</a> became the first transgender bodybuilding contestant to participate in a competition in San Diego in 2011. Bruce doesn't necessarily identify as male or female, rather as someone who sits in the middle of the gender spectrum. As a motivational speaker, fitness trainer and LGBT-rights activist, Bruce works to increase awareness of gender fluidity and was featured on National Geographic Channel's "Taboo: Changing Genders" in September 2012. <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/christinafoxx/6240446760/sizes/z/in/photostream/"><em>Photo Courtesy of Flickr User Chris Bruce. </em></a>
Originally from Quebec, the Canadian hockey champ<a href="http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/othersports/2003817138_goodread02.html" target="_hplink"> decided to stop </a>hiding her sexual orientation while still a freshman at Harvard University. "If they weren't going to accept me on the team," she told <em>The Seattle Times</em>, "I wasn't going to stay."
Formerly of the San Diego Padres, baseball player Billy Bean came out in 1999, five years after he retired. Now, however, he says he has regrets about ending his baseball career after just six seasons. "If I had only told my parents, I probably would have played two or three more years and understood that I could come out a step at a time, not have to do it in front of a microphone," he<a href="http://outsports.com/jocktalkblog/2011/09/27/moment-7-major-leaguer-billy-bean-comes-out-still-regrets-retiring/" target="_hplink"> is quoted by</a> Outsports as saying. "And I was completely misguided. I had no mentor. I think that's where the responsibility comes in for people who have lived that experience, and we take for granted that everybody's adjusted and gets it."
Former NFL player Wade Davis came out in 2012 after leaving the sport. When San Francisco 49er Chris Culliver spewed anti-gay remarks about gay players in the NFL just before taking the stage of Super Bowl XLVII, Davis <a href="http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/02/01/fmr-nfl-player-speaks-out-against-homophobia-in-sports/">spoke up against Culliver and said</a>: "I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to help us have this conversation during the biggest game of the year,’ but then I also thought, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of players who are closeted in the NFL that are going to go deeper into the closet because of these comments.”
The pro-golfer, who won 13 events during her 21 years, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/21/sports/golf/21ROSI.html" target="_hplink">came out in</a> a 2004 <em>New York Times</em> editorial. "You see, my sponsor, Olivia, is one of the world's largest and most respected companies catering to lesbian travelers, and this represents the first time a company like this has sponsored a professional athlete -- a gay professional athlete," Jones wrote. "Inherent in this sponsorship is my coming out. It's a bit of a curiosity, because I've never been in the closet. For more than 25 years, I've been very comfortable with the fact that I'm gay...I have never, until now, felt the need to discuss it in the news media."
The champion rider, who competed in six consecutive Olympics, says he's never had much of a problem with being open about his sexual orientation in the equestrian world. Still, as he he<a href="http://www.outsports.com/olympics/2004/0804robertdover.htm" target="_hplink"> told Outsports</a>, "I did not connect my social life to my work life for many years, and while I never ran away from the issue of my homosexuality, I must admit that I had no real interest in bringing attention to it, especially with the press...what changed everything was a combination of meeting my soul-mate Robert Ross, whom I was so proud to be with that I wanted everyone to know, and the AIDS epidemic which affected so many people dear to me."
The South African-born commissioner of World Team Tennis <a href="http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_445847.html" target="_hplink">has also been</a> the partner of Billie Jean King for more than 20 years. She also credits King with encouraging her to pursue her career. "I had an opportunity to hit tennis balls with Billie Jean King when she was in South Africa when I was 11," <a href="http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/jul/17/17kloss1o1/" target="_hplink">she said</a>. "She encouraged me to pursue my dream, and I did."
Former World No. 1 tennis player, Amelie Mauresmo, was the <a href="http://sports.ca.msn.com/other/photos/gallery.aspx?cp-documentid=25032725&page=8">first openly lesbian on the WTA tour since Martina Navratilova</a>. At only 19, the frenchwoman surged into the 1999 Australian Open finals and with much speculation about her sexuality, Mauresmo also took the opportunity to come out to the national press after she jumped into her girlfriend's arms for making the grand slam final down under. Mauresmo is a <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2006/nov/26/tennis.features1">two-time grand slam singles champion</a>, winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006. She also holds an Olympic silver medal from the 2004 Athens summer games.
Kye Allums is the <a href="http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2011/10/lgbt-history-month-kye-allums-first-openly-transgender-athlete/" target="_hplink">first openly transgender athlete to play NCAA Division I</a> college basketball. He was a shooting guard on the George Washington University women's basketball team until he decided to no longer play. Allums is now busy speaking about his life around the country.
Esera Tuaolo, former NFL player, came out in 2002 in an interview on HBO's "Real Sports." The 6 foot 3 inch, 300 pound athlete became the <a href="http://www.outsports.com/nfl/20021027eseramain.htm">third former football player to acknowledge his homosexuality</a> after David Kopay and Roy Simmons in 1975 and 1992, respectively.
Ian Roberts is an Australian actor and former professional rugby league footballer. Roberts <a href="http://www.outsports.com/2011/9/21/4051868/moment-11-australian-rugby-league-player-ian-roberts-comes-out-while" target="_blank">came out</a> in 1995, making him the first professional Australian athlete and rugby footballer to publicly come out and continue to play in the league.